Why Reading Matters

It’s the beginning of a new year, which means I’ve spent a lot of time “taking inventory” of my life. As I evaluate and examine to see what I want to change or work on this year, I’ve been asking myself big questions: questions like, “What are my priorities right now?” and “What really matters?” and “Is this goal/activity/resolution worth spending my time on?

As I think about this blog and I think about what I want to accomplish with my writing here, I came up with one central question:

“Why does reading matter?”

My tagline for this blog is “books, reading, and things that matter.” That’s my focus here: to use books and reading to start a conversation about the stuff that really matters. At the same time, though, I want to encourage you to read, to encounter ideas in writing on your own. And while most people would like to read more (one survey found that 81% of Americans want to read more than they do), others might be asking a question I’ve asked myself: does reading really matter? Is it really worth my time?

Obviously, I think the answer is yes. And while I could give you a variety of reasons why, today I’m going to focus on just one: reading connects us with other people in ways many other activities don’t.

1. Reading teaches us to empathize.

When we read, we have to look at the world from someone else’s point of view.

In some ways, it doesn’t really matter what kind of book you’re reading. If it’s fiction, you’re experiencing the story through the eyes of the narrator. If it’s nonfiction, you’re seeing the author’s experiences, opinions, and worldview through the lens she uses in her writing.

Either way, you’re practicing the skill of seeing through someone else’s eyes, putting aside your own preconceived ways of thinking about things for a little while so you can listen to what someone else has to say. That’s a crucial skill for healthy communication, and the better you get at it, the better you’ll be at cultivating close, meaningful conversations with the people you care about.

2. Reading helps us think (and talk) about things that matter.

People write for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes, they want to tell a story; sometimes, they want to convince the reader about something they believe in; sometimes, they want to inform people about a topic they want people to know more about.

Regardless of their reason for writing, most writers end up sharing one thing in common: they use their writing to explore ideas that matter. I’ve read novels that make me think about the importance of being intentional in the ways I change as I age. I’ve read nonfiction books that started me thinking about what motivates me to meet an expectation or goal. I didn’t necessarily agree with everything these books said—but they nudged me to consider things I hadn’t thought about before, and my thinking about these topics continued long after I’d finished reading the book that introduced the topic in the first place.

Here’s why this is important: the more time you spend thinking about things that matter, the better prepared you’ll be to participate in a conversation about that topic if it comes up. And it is conversations about things that matter that bring us close to other people in ways that small talk never can.

3. Reading can be a shared experience.

When my friend and I read the same book, the act of reading becomes an experience we share with one another, something we’ve both been through that we can now talk about and bond over.

Sometimes, the bond we develop through reading is the same as the one we build with friends when we go to an event together or play a board game or watch a movie. We don’t necessarily talk about it afterward, but the very act of sharing an experience draws us together.

When people do talk about our reading, the conversation is often relatively superficial: “I loved the part when…” “After [X] happened, I couldn’t put the book down!” “I think the author should have done [X] instead.” We’re not necessarily talking about “things that matter,” but we’re reinforcing the idea that we have something in common, an experience not everyone around us shares. That creates a connection in small but important ways.

Sometimes, though, the conversation goes deeper. “When the author said [X], it really made me think about my own life…” “I agreed [or didn’t agree] with…” “[X] made me think about [topic] differently…” These are conversations that often don’t just happen: something has to spark them, inspire them—and reading is a good way to make that happen.

That’s why reading matters: it’s not just about “reading more,” but about equipping us with tools to connect with others in more meaningful ways. It’s about relationships, about things that really, truly matter to us.

And that makes it very much worth my time.

How has reading helped you connect with another person? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments!

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